Mission to a Virtual Solar System: SBIR Proposal

DigitalSpace Corporation Confidential Document 1999

SBIR Phase I Proposal

Mission to a Virtual Solar System:
a 3D Multi-user Internet Portal

Electronic ID: 24.03-9400 / 109353


Fig 1: Model of Ares crater near the Mars Pathfinder site produced in a first generation virtual world, spring 1997. Orbiter image of crater is on the right. Avatar of an online visitor can be seen in the crater model

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART

DESCRIPTION

PAGE

9.A

Proposal Cover

1

9.B

Proposal Summary

2

 

Table of Contents

3

1

Identification and Significance of the Innovation

4

2

Phase I Technical Objectives

7

3

Phase I Work Plan

9

4

Related R&D

14

5

Key Personnel and Bibliography of Directly Related Work

15

6

Relationship with Phase II or other Future R&D

17

7

Facilities

17

8

Company Information

17

9

Subcontracts and Consultants

18

10

Commercial Applications Potential

19

11

Similar Proposals and Awards

20

12

Previous NASA SBIR Awards

20

9.C

SBIR Proposal Summary Budget

21

Part 1 - Identification and Significance of the Innovation

1.1 Cyberspace as a Shared Space for Collaboration, Outreach and Learning

Both in the commercial sphere and in NASA's space exploration missions there is an increasing use of the Internet for collaboration and the support of organizational outreach and education. NASA's online resources during the Mars Pathfinder events of the summer of 1997 drew an unprecedented global interest. During that event, some of the most popular and valuable resources available were the Quicktime VR ™ and VRML panoramic views and models of the surface surrounding the lander. At the same time, higher resolution surface representations were being created for project scientists and sent through the Internet to their home institutions.

In 1999, the development of multi-user 3D spaces on the Internet is at the center of a whole new medium for collaboration, outreach and learning in networked computer systems. DigitalSpace Corporation has been at the heart of this development, producing many of the first large-scale applications (for further background, see the projects listed in section 11 or visit our web site at http://www.digitalspace.com). In 1998, DigitalSpace was invited to NASA Ames to engage in a series of presentations and seminars on shared virtual worlds to groups across several divisions. From these sessions and online it became clear that we could make a serious contribution to the NASA mission using these technologies discussions (some of these discussions are at: http://www.digitalspace.com/nasa). The SBIR program fit the criteria for establishing a formal relationship, and lead to the submission of this proposal.

1.2 The Mission Scientific Support Need

For Mars Pathfinder, the science operations were largely at mission control at JPL. This will not likely be the case in the future. Upcoming Mars missions in 2001, 2003, 2005, and beyond will need better tools to enable distributed science operations allowing the teams to participate from their home institutions. At the same time, these institutions cannot afford the expensive Virtual Reality (VR) displays and high-end systems typically set-up at mission control.


Fig 2: plate from MarsMap showing the Sojourner traverse in a VR model
of the Mars Pathfinder landing site (overhead view), From Stoker et al.

The benefit of VR approaches for scientific collaboration during Mars Pathfinder mission operations can be best illustrated through the science results produced by MarsMap. A documentary website for MarsMap can be found at: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/278/5344/1734. The images on this site (one is reproduced in Figure 2 above) were produced using the modeling capabilities with scientists collaborating side-by-side in front of a VR display. The interactive nature of the 3D models allowed them to save considerable time in analyzing the terrain topography, and thus more efficiently produce results and focus on the relevant science. Future missions could also utilize this capability but in a multi-user distributed fashion. Lower cost computer platforms now provide similar 3D computing power to the high-end systems used in Mars Pathfinder. In addition, software tools, protocols and design methods running on these platforms could provide highly effective shared distributed scientific mission support.

1.3 The Public Outreach and Educational Needs

ON July 10th, 1997, the "CNN Live from Mars" press conference allowed the public the first chance to see the interactive 3D model capabilities. During the live broadcast, the press collaboratively directed the team lead by Dr. Stoker on where to fly to in the 3D model. Records from that session recall the press asking: "Take us to see Flat-top?", "Where is Yogi?" and show the scientific team flying around the model (made only days earlier) to give them the perspective from these vantage points. Following this groundbreaking presentation, the next question was "when can we do this at home"? A tool to allow the distribution of surface models, data such as temperature, atmospheric composition, spacecraft status, interviews and broadcasts and other mission-related details to standard home computers at modem speeds would not only engage the press and public more deeply in the missions but provide a tremendous educational facility for use in the classroom.

1.4 The Technological Tools Currently Available

In 1999, two years after Mars Pathfinder, many new technologies exist to allow the sharing of 3D geometric models, or bitmapped cylindrical or spherical views over the Internet. However, with all of these approaches, the visitor to a site on the Internet is merely downloading a media type and browsing these resources alone. The great trend in the Internet in the late 1990s is to provide fully interactive multi-user environments, where people are connected with changing content and each other in real time. The public Internet is experiencing a boom in virtual communities typified by chat rooms, instant messaging and 2D and 3D "avatar" virtual spaces. The business Internet is seeing the growth of collaborative and conferencing tools such as real time chat including media players and whiteboards. The gaming industry has fielded some successes in large-scale multi-player systems.

1.5 The Innovation

From this great store of technologies and architectures there is emerging a capability to create uniquely powerful learning and collaborative environments where 3D data is an essential component. From the NASA perspective, as well as the general marketplace, a 3D tool that combined multi-user interaction with shared 3D scenes and behaviors at varying degrees of resolution, would be of great use in satisfying the above identified needs of the scientific and educational/public outreach missions. The tool, which we are calling a "3D multi-user Internet portal", would encapsulate the following innovations:

  1. An optimized, compressed streaming format to deliver both 3D scenegraph and behavior/animation formats optimized both for the personal computer user at home (consumer platform) and the scientist and engineer at an institution or company (high end platform). The format would support modular definition of geometric objects, re-use and local caching of scenes, behavior and other media types to increase bandwidth and reduce repeat visit load times. The cache would support its own cache limits and cleanup of less frequently used objects. The format would be based upon database records and driven by ODBC and other database transaction standards, thereby capitalizing on the power, openness, management capability and economy of web-database engines, and not inventing a proprietary server or file format.
  2. Multi user presence within an instance of the scene to permit the sharing of 3D and 2D data and interaction between those present through the use of avatars (3D embodiment of users) and video, audio and text streams. The tool would be optimized both for small scenegraphs and a limited number of users per scene graph to keep compute resources down and allow peer to peer operation.
  3. The tool executable would have a small footprint (at approximately 500K Bytes for the consumer platform enabling rapid access and lowering of demand on servers during high hit periods, such as during live mission coverage.
  4. The tool would run as a plug-in to standard web browsers across common consumer platforms.
  5. The tool would use peer to peer communications, populating instances of the scenegraph, behaviors, data channels, and user profiles from client to client and avoiding the use of a server for all but the minimum synchronization and updating of content. This will permit scalable operations supporting hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of users exploring updated instances of the same spaces.
  6. Core content servers serving as "seeds" to populate the client instances of a scene and its users. These servers would not be based upon a proprietary scenegraph format and protocols but instead be constructed as web-based database processes, using a number of engines and ODBC and other standards to send standardized records
  7. The tool would provide its own plug-in architecture to allow a wide range of developers to write extensions that can bring new behavior or simulation capabilities to the tool.
  8. Standards and open API's would be utilized where possible.

No commercial 3D software technology offers the unique set of capabilities outlined above. The innovations in combination will produce a tool that will dramatically enhance the ability of the scientist and lay person alike to experience 3D scenes collaboratively and from several perspectives. For its application to NASA, both current and future missions as well as historic missions where planetary, asteroidal or cometary surfaces have or will produce 3D surface or other scene geometry can be represented through the portal. In fact, as specific locales in the solar system are modeled through the portal tool, an entire body of scenes and interactive content would emerge as a "virtual solar system". We choose to term the entire concept "Mission to a Virtual Solar System" with the portal tool as the first vehicle.


Fig 3: Apollo IX astronaut Rusty Schweickart reenacts the first steps on the moon in
a DigitalSpace trial in the CERHAS Apollo project virtual world.

Our company, DigitalSpace Corporation (DSC) has engaged in the creation of 3D multi-user spaces using first generation technologies for nearly four years. Some of these spaces have had relevant NASA themes, notably recreations of Apollo and Mars Pathfinder missions (see figures 1 and 3 above). After presenting these spaces to a number of NASA Divisions in formal sessions at Ames in 1998, we realized that there was both a need and an interest in multi-user virtual worlds for both outreach and scientific uses. This experience motivated us to prepare this Phase I proposal which we believe will create a next generation of capability for the virtual worlds industry as well as serving NASA needs for intelligent synthesis environments.

Part 2 - Phase I Technical Objectives

1. The Objectives and How We Plan to Meet Them

The Phase I objectives and solution paths are:

  1. Carrying out of a series of interviews with project scientists and managers, engineers, educators, and end users as to what features they would like to see in a new 3D Multi-user Internet Portal designed to satisfy both outreach and scientific needs with "virtual solar system" content. DigitalSpace has created or participated in the creation and testing of prototype 3D virtual worlds representing a variety of NASA missions, notably Apollo and Mars Pathfinder. These existing environments will be used in the interview process. We would include our advisory members in the review (see section 5.2 below).
  2. Building on the feedback from the interviews, the creation of a comprehensive study of the components needed to implement the full 3D Multi-user Internet Portal, identifying off-the-shelf versus need-to-build technologies. Following the component phase, we will engage in the production of an architectural document, feasibility framework, and projection of a timeline and budget to implement a full portal. We will then scale back from the full proposal and specify a minimum framework to produce a portal "test bed".
  3. Based on insights gained from the interviews and the resulting study and test bed specification, we will engage in the implementation of a prototype 3D Multi-user Internet Portal with basic capabilities on top of a commercial rendering engine and operable on consumer computers at modem speeds. This prototype will demonstrate the following:

    1. Streaming in geometry generated from the terrain of past and future mission landing sites on Mars, including Viking, Mars Pathfinder (MarsMap), portions of the recent 3D map of Mars produced by Global Surveyor's Laser Altimeter (MOLA) instrument, Mars Polar Lander (projected), Mars01 (projected), Mars03 (projected) and beyond.
    2. Modeling of the spacecraft, both mobile and stationary from several of the above missions for inclusion inside the virtual worlds represented within the portal.
    3. Creation of avatars, and an integrated text chat capability to allow exploration of the models and interaction with other net-connected users.

  1. Use the insights and experience gained from the above to submit a proposal for Phase II support to continue the work to develop a fully specified portal tool.

1.2 Meeting the Objectives by Utilizing Existing NASA Capabilities

From our four-year background in developing and serving virtual worlds for collaboration, outreach and education, we have a great deal of technology, design approaches and experience to draw upon. There is the additional benefit of a substantial amount of existing capabilities within NASA that can be reused in this effort, both to provide valuable supporting material in the feasibility study and as actual content for the prototype.

For example, we can use outputs and specifications from MarsMap and other mission tools and data to generate 3D models for the prototype and later on in a Phase II live mission operation. A good source of background on tools and methods used by NASA in pathfinder and a good baseline for our efforts may be found at: Stoker, C.R., Zbinden, E.Z., Blackmon, T.T. et. al. Analyzing Pathfinder data using virtual reality and super-resolved imaging, Journal of

Geophysical Research, Vol 104, No E4 pp 8889-8906, April 25, 1999).

Fig 4: Margaret Cobrit of Cornell University Theory Center using her avatar to address an online audience inside a 3D world. Her topic of discussion was "Building a Virtual Science Center" and included a discussion of the Mars Pathfinder modeling work that Cornell is involved with.

Part 3 - Phase I Work Plan

In order to achieve the objectives described in Part 2 of this Proposal, DSC has divided the project into eleven major tasks. The following table provides our projected allocation of hours by labor category by task.

 

TASK

DESCRIPTION

PI

PM

TE

SE

CD

TG

1

Interview Phase and Processing of Interviews, creation of website reporting features identified

30

10

10

0

0

0

2

Component study, creation of comparison tables

30

10

20

0

0

0

3

Creation of architectural document, feasibility framework and budget projections for full Portal

40

10

20

0

0

0

4

Creation of subset test bed Portal specification

80

20

10

40

0


0

 

5

Selection of rendering engine, communications component, multi user components for test bed Portal, Coding of basic API to the rendering engine

10

30

10

10

0

0

6

Creation of streaming API and socket protocol to ODBC database process for delivery to the Portal

10

20

10

40

0

0

7

Integration of multi user and chat capability

8

20

10

20

0

0

8

Development of scene geometry, conversion of real surface data,

conversion of spacecraft models and suitable avatars

8

10

10

20

60

0

9

Test of portal with a select evaluation group


40


40


0


10


20


30

10


Full integrated testing of content and Portal, Testing online with focus group and expert reviewers


20


20


0


10


20


30


11


Postmortem report for Phase II consideration


40


30


0


0


0


0

 

 

Where:

PI = Principal Investigator

PM = Program Manager

TE = Technical Expert

SE = Software Engineer

CD = Content Developer

TG = Test Group

The remainder of this section describes each of the major tasks and provides a schedule for the Phase I effort.

3.1 Early Specification of the Architectural Requirements for the 3D Multi-user Internet Portal

DSC has already developed, for this proposal, a preliminary set of architectural requirements for the 3D Multi-user Internet Portal (3DMIP). The specification will be formally defined in a full specification produced in technical objective (2) of the proposal. Based upon four years of experience in the multi-user virtual worlds medium, as well as a number of presentations and meetings at NASA divisions, we feel that the basic requirements of any tool of this type are as follows. This is an expansion of the innovations listed in Part 1 of this proposal.

Peer to Peer architecture: The architecture will be that of a distributed client system with a light weight requirement to source content or communications through a server. Instead, clients will synchronize directly with other operating clients to provide a small number of co-operating clients on shared content. This type of peer to peer serving removes the major bottleneck to providing multi-user content to millions of users simultaneously: the server. Small groups forming "instant" and temporary visitations to the same content, synchronized in terms of geometry, behaviors and other media types will serve a wide variety of needs. A couple of examples of these needs include: classroom teams taking a virtual field trip at the Mars01 site to interact with a project scientist online; or scientists and engineers convening to plot likely paths for a rover while examining multiple perspectives, shadows projected through time, and higher resolution textures and other data relating to the locale. Each of these examples can be satisfied by peer to peer clients synchronizing with one copy of up to date surface data and models, and then sharing this content and all interactions between the clients.

3D Streaming format based on databases: Another key component of the portal is that of an optimized, compressed streaming format to deliver both 3D scenegraph (terrains and models, including avatars) and behavior/animation specifications. A number of streaming formats (Metastreams, Liquid3D, X3D, 3DML and others) have been developed and could be utilized for basic geometry. However, these formats lack coherent capabilities for two way, interactive updating of the scenes after they are streamed. In fact, the records describing geometric objects in any 3D streaming format could easily be described by a standard set of database records representing vertices, faces, splines, lighting, textures and other objects. There is indeed no need to invent another scenegraph format. The most powerful applications, and greatest commercial successes, on the World Wide Web today are driven by large back end databases. High use commercial web pages are almost entirely constructed dynamically by database processes. In fact, terrain data from Mars and other sites would best be imported as database records. Models created in VRML, 3DS, DXF or other formats can be interpreted into a database for distribution. Therefore, the format and protocols for delivery of content to the client and updating of the scene back to its master on the server, would be a database transaction process, utilizing standards such as ODBC, CORBA, and SQL.

Multi-resolution for multiple communities: To serve the needs of several communities, the objects served and bandwidth required would be multi-resolution, with one version optimized for home, slower connection and consumer PC platforms, and another tuned for higher end systems on broadband Internet. The portal could be switched on the fly to lower resolution consumer platform versions of objects or higher resolution professional platforms. The outreach and educational missions of the portal reaching classrooms and the home might be best served by the consumer platform. Higher resolution objects, greater telemetry from

Modular re-use and caching: the architecture would support modular definition of geometric objects, re-use and local caching of scenes, behavior and other media types to increase bandwidth and reduce repeat visit load times. The cache would support its own cache limits and cleanup of less frequently used objects.

Multi-user interaction: Multi user presence within an instance of the scene will permit the sharing of 3D and 2D data and interaction between those present through the use of avatars (3D embodiment of users) and video, audio and text streams. The tool would be optimized both for small scenegraphs and a limited number of users per scene graph to keep compute resources down and allow peer to peer operation.

Footprint: The tool executable would have a small footprint (at approximately 500K Bytes for the consumer platform enabling rapid access and lowering of demand on servers during high hit periods, such as during live mission coverage.

Plug-in capability: The tool would run as a plug-in to standard web browsers across common consumer client platforms. On the Windows platforms, ActiveX and plug-ins would be considered. On the MacOS, standard plug-ins would be employed. A standalone version would have some justification as a test platform or for CD-ROM or DVD-ROM distribution. All sofware would be designed for web-based download and easy installation.

Plug-in extensible architecture: The tool would provide its own plug-in architecture to allow a wide range of developers to write extensions that can bring new behavior or simulation capabilities to the tool.

3.2 Early Specification of likely Components

DSC already has a draft specification of a likely set of component technologies and standards to be shortlisted for examination in phase (2) of the technical objectives:

  • Computing platforms supported: peer to peer clients (Windows, MacOS.. a target); server side: any system supporting a console application: Unix, Linux, Windows NT, Win 9x, Mac System 10
  • Rendering technologies: Renderware 3.0, Direct X, OpenGL, GLIDE, GLView, Java3D, GEL
  • Hardware acceleration: accessed via API layer, software rendering must be supported also
  • Client software platform: C++ to the native OS/API layers including Win32 and MacOS or Java 2 for cross platform features
  • Plug-in strategy: ActiveX or native browser plug-ins depending on platform; a standalone version is also a possibility
  • Databases for the seed server process: Visual Foxpro, Oracle Server, Microsoft SQL Server, ODBC libraries for all servers
  • Real time and multi user protocol: RTIME or a subset of DIS or capabilities within Java 2
  • Import filters for content: VRML97, Renderware RWX, 3DS, DXF, geographic information terrain formats like DES, avatar formats such as lifeforms, VH-ANIM

Standards and open API's would be utilized where possible

3.3 Project Reference Website

The Project Reference Website will be a center for ongoing progress and resources surrounding the project, from the interview phase to the prototype test bed evaluation. The site will consist of the following components:

  • Project goals, timeline, sponsors, participants
  • Team biographies and contact information
  • Examples of prior systems in the multi user virtual space
  • Samples of NASA mission-oriented content on first generation platforms
  • Documentary results of each phase of the project, from the posting of interviews to architectural and specification documents
  • Listserver for project participants
  • Access to existing DigitalSpace and other 3D virtual worlds on first generation platforms
  • Downloadable releases of test bed software and related tools and libraries
  • Links to related sites in the virtual worlds industry and SBIR and other NASA sites

 

3.4 Design/Implementation/Testing of a Test Bed Portal

DSC will design and implement a test bed portal based on a minimum buildable prototype within the time allotted (approximately 3 months). Off the shelf APIs and rendering technologies will be employed. Prior work in designing and hosting events and NASA-oriented content in 3D virtual worlds will provide content and experience necessary to create a minimal but effective experience within the new prototype environment.

 

3.5 Business Plan

DSC's final report will include a "Business Plan" which has a dual purpose. It provides guidelines on how DSC is to operate on a day to day basis and is also to be used as the basis for obtaining venture capital during Phase II. The Business Plan, at a minimum, is to contain a description of:

DSC organization and staff;

DSC management policies;

Brief product description;

Marketing plan (tools, potential markets, methods);

Accomplishments to date;

Financial considerations;

Projected cash flow.


Fig 5: George Myers of NASA Ames (NAS Facility) shown in
his avatar in a virtual version of the NAS consultants support area

3.8 Technology Transfer

DSC has a clearly defined path to commercialization for this technology. DSC's large existing client base in industry and academia will provide a potential market for the portal tool. All design work on the architecture and prototype will take into account the broader range of applications DSC has identified. Figure 5 above shows the use of a virtual world for customer support of consultants at NASA's Ames NAS facility. Virtual worlds for business conferencing, customer support, training, seminars, team meetings are some of the corporate applications that would be addressed by the prototype tool. Figure 4 shows an example of a virtual space designed by DigitalSpace used to deliver a lecture in a university setting. The prototype would have great significance as a platform for a shared learning space, able to support students on "virtual fieldtrips" to visit models of mission sites and interact with project scientists and engineers in real time. In general, for K-12, college and university level students, "virtual field trips", historic reenactments, exploration of mathematical and other abstract concepts, virtual scientific co-laboratories could all be enabled with this technology. Lastly, there is a market for these virtual worlds supporting museums through kiosks or at-home access to 3D virtual rooms representing art exhibitions or animated models for natural history and science centers.

 

3.9 Work Schedule

This section describes the work schedule for the Phase I effort. DSC work is to be coordinated from its corporate offices located near Santa Cruz California. DSC design and testing teams are located at several places around the United States and internationally. In addition, key DSC programming resources will be employed from the San Francisco Bay Area. The schedule assumes a start date of 1 November 1999 with a completion date of 30 April 2000. Any change in the start date causes a corresponding change in the completion date.

PHASE I SCHEDULE

 

 

 

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Expert Interviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creation of architectural plan, specifications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selection of component technologies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid Point Project Review

 

 

 

 

+

 

 

 

 

Prototype development

 

 

 

 

 

 

d

d

d

Content development

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

d

d

Test

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

t

t

Final Phase I Report

       

 

+

*

Where:

= Specification and or Design and Documentation

d = Software and Content Development

t = Software Testing

+ = Status Report

* = Final Report

Part 4 - Related R&D

The DSC team and its contractors and review board consists of the Principle investigator, Mr. Bruce Damer, who is also the Program Manager; Mr. Stuart Gold (technical expert), Ms. Nancy Levidow (executive administration of the project), our software engineers, our content developers, David Rasmussen, Troy Gerth, Benjamin Britton and our test and evaluation team of Bonnie DeVarco (UC Santa Cruz), Jim Bell (Cornell), Margaret Corbit (Cornell) and Derrick Woodham (University of Cincinnatti). This team has already completed the following research:

Four years of producing content and events within 3D shared virtual worlds on the Internet including such projects as: TheU virtual university architecture competition (see http://www.ccon.org/theu/ ); Avatars98, a conference inside cyberspace (see http://www.ccon.org/conf98/ ), Apollo IX and XI reenactments (see http://www.digitalspace.com/worlds/apollo/index.html ).

Supported industry conferences to forward the medium of virtual worlds, including the annual Avatars conferences, Digital Biota, Vlearn, Siggraph, CHI, CSCW and others.

Published many papers and books on the subject of virtual worlds (see http://www.digitalspace.com/papers )

Reviewed systems and literature from the entire evolution of 3D and shared spaces on the internet from 1989.

 

Part 5: Key Personnel and Bibliography of Directly Related Work

5.1 Management and technical staff members

The following brief resumes are the proposed management/technical staff members which form the DSC SBIR team for Phase I. The initial portion of Part 3 of this proposal specifies the hours allotted for each task by our proposed staff members.

Name: Bruce Damer

Years of Experience: 19

Position: President and CEO, DSC

Education: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (University of Victoria, Canada, 1984); MSEE (University of Southern California, 1986)

SBIR Assignment: Principal Investigator and Program Manager. Mr. Damer will be the Principal Investigator and also manage the NASA SBIR Phase I effort. He will coordinate all interaction between DSC and its review board and contractors, be responsible for all staffing, technical design, reporting and documentation. Mr. Damer will devote a minimum of 100 hours per month of his time to the NASA SBIR project.

Experience: Mr. Damer is the world's recognized expert on avatars and shared online graphical virtual spaces having created much of the early literature, conferences and awareness of the medium. Mr. Damer is a visiting scholar at the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Lab and a member of the staff at the San Francisco State Multimedia Studies Program. Prior to founding DSC, Mr. Damer co-founded and was (and still is) a director of the Contact Consortium, the world's first and largest non profit forum for research and development of multi-user virtual worlds hosted on the Internet (see http://www.ccon.org ). Prior to this he was Chief Technology Officer of a highly successful software product development company (Elixir Technologies) from 1987-1994. His responsibilities at Elixir were overseeing an advanced document system development that used technology transferred from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center to generate the majority of the world's time-sensitive documents for industry and government. See http://www.digitalspace.com/papers for a complete bibliography of Mr. Damer's work.

Name: Stuart Gold

Years of Experience: 25

Position: Chief Architectural Officer, DSC

Education: Royal Institute of British Architects

SBIR Assignment: Key Technical Expert who will evaluate the technology components and architecture for the portal tool as well as coordinating and engaging in both the server/database development for the prototype and the content development for the prototype.

Experience: Mr. Gold is a pioneer of online systems, starting with his work on transaction processing for Prestel in the 1970s and concluding most recently with his leadership in the design and delivery of online virtual worlds including: TheU Virtual University Architecture Competition, International Health Insurance Virtual Headquarters, and Avatars98 Inside Cyberspace. Mr. Gold has also been trained as an architect and he brings this experience to the form and function of virtual spaces that DSC produces. See http://www.ccon.org/theu for his recent projects.

Name: Nancy Levidow

Years of Experience: 20

Position: Business Coordinator, Treasurer, DSC

SBIR Assignment: Ms. Levidow will be coordinating the logistical and reporting aspects of the SBIR Phase I work.

Experience: Ms. Levidow has coordinated DSC work, conferences, finances, and key marketing and client relationships since 1997.

5.2 Advisory Review Board

The following individuals have agreed to serve as members of our advisory review board. They will be called upon to evaluate the content and effectiveness of both the feasibility study and the prototype. We hope that this independent input will enable us to write a more valuable report at the end of Phase I and give us good direction for Phase II.

Name: James Bell

Position: Assistant Professor in the Cornell University Astronomy Department's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research

Background: He is a member of the Science Teams of the NASA Mars Pathfinder, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), Mars Surveyor '98, and Mars Surveyor '01 (Athena) missions.

Review Assignment: Key Scientific Expert who will evaluate the fit of the portal tool with current and upcoming missions for its scientific collaborative capability. See his bio at: http://astrosun.tn.cornell.edu/people/faculty/bell.htm

Name: Margaret Corbit

Position: Science writer, Cornell Theory Center

Background: She is a key promoter of shared virtual spaces as a learning medium

Review Assignment: Key educational expert who will evaluate the effectiveness of the portal as a publicly accessible learning space. She will coordinate the input of the key Cornell Mars Pathfinder and Surveyor science teams. Her bio and works are at: http://www.tc.cornell.edu/~corbitm

Name: Bonnie deVarco

Position: Educational Researcher and Technologist, UC Santa Cruz

Background: She is a key experimenter and designer of shared virtual spaces as a learning medium, having built some of the first such environments within a US university

Review Assignment: Key educational expert who will evaluate the effectiveness of the portal as a K-12, college and university learning medium. Her bio and works are at: http://gate.cruzio.com/~devarco/

Name: Derrick Woodham

Position: Professor of Fine Art, College of Design

Background: He is a pioneer in the design, aesthetics and usability of content in 3D online virtual worlds. His students created the MOON virtual world which presented a documentary exhibit of the Apollo program.

Review Assignment: Key expert in the evaluation of the content and feature set of the 3D portal prototype.

Part 6: Relationship with Phase II or other Future R/R&D

DSC's final report will demonstrate to NASA our total commitment to the development and marketing of a 3D Multi-user Internet Portal product for use in outreach and scientific support in a "virtual solar system". DSC perceives the Phase I work to be a complete definition of the design of the product and a demonstration of a prototype of at least three of the major innovations identified in Part 1 of this proposal. DSC envisions Phase II work to encompass the building of a full commercial product with associated production quality content, online support and technical and user documentation.

This effort is to form the basis of the 3D portal product DSC brings to market. At the start of Phase III, DSC plans to either finance its initial operation with venture capital, or if no venture capital is obtained, the principals are committed to self finance the venture during Phase III.

Part 7: Facilities

DigitalSpace Corporation (DSC) is located near Santa Cruz California and currently leases an office space in a 2 story building in Boulder Creek, California. All DSC employees and contractors have at least one personal computer (most have IBM PCs, Pentium class, while others have Macintoshes or both in their office or home-based office).

Part 8: Company Information

DigitalSpace Corporation (DSC) was incorporated in the state of California on 24 August 1995. DSC is a company organized to exploit the multi-user virtual worlds market. DSC was founded by Mr. Bruce Damer (the proposed Principal Investigator). DSC is located near Santa Cruz California and currently leases an office space in a 2 story building in Boulder Creek, California. Additional DSC employees and subcontractors have offices in San Francisco and London England. The company is based on the following concepts:

that the Internet and especially 3D virtual worlds, can be effective meeting places and enable communications, learning and team based projects. DSC uses these spaces daily in a proof of concept that a company can base its operations on them;

as the need for teleworking, distance learning, virtual communities of interest and visualization grows, so will grow the capabilities of ordinary consumer personal computers to deliver real-time 3D multi-user experiences. It is the convergence between these needs and the capabilities of consumer computing hardware that will create a large industry producing and hosting virtual worlds in the near future.

On these two premises, DSC has engaged dozens of clients to produce both demonstration and fully functional virtual spaces since 1995. See our web site at http://www.digitalspace.com for a portfolio of projects and clients. We will feature a number of them here for their relevance to the SBIR proposal:

ORGANIZATION: Datafusion Inc, San Francisco California

CONTRACT VALUE: $100,000

DESCRIPTION: Designed and developed a prototype virtual world for Datafusion's knowledge map product, depicting problem and resolutions graphically in navigable layered 3D spaces.

COMPANY: International Health Insurance, Copenhagen, Denmark

CONTRACT VALUE: $50,000

DESCRIPTION: Worked closely with this financial services client to build a virtual headquarters in 3D complete with help desk functions delivered in five languages by automated agents. This world was also tested with a satellite based paging system to inform help desk personnel when a client enters the virtual world.

COMPANY: The Contact Consortium

CONTRACT VALUE: $220,000

DESCRIPTION: Coordinated the Consortium's three annual conferences beginning in 1996. Created program, fund raising plan, financial and logistical support, and build a new technology platform so that the Consortium's 1998 conference could be held entirely inside the Internet in 3D virtual worlds.

Part 9: Subcontracts and Consultants

DigitalSpace Corporation plans to use online users, in addition to its review board, as its test group. Contractors will be used for some of the content development and software engineering. The study and specifications as well as software engineering will be done by DSC staff.

Part 10 Commercial Applications Potential

There are several classes of clients for a 3D Multi-user Internet Portal. The first class is a specific industry which wishes to provide a general capability for people to interact online. This field is now dominated by instant messaging. Millions of websites have added some form of real time interaction and are candidates for using the portal. The second class is a variety of clients who have serious needs in distance learning, business collaboration, e-commerce product sales and support, customer support, events, and scientific/engineering applications.

The first class requires a simple, streaming, low bandwidth, standards-based, small footprint plug-in to common Web browsers. In addition, this class requires scalability to millions of simultaneous users in small groups.

The second class requires much higher resolution content that is tuned for faster networks, secure transactions, support for live video and audio within the virtual environment, database back end support including world building, tracking and logging, rich simulation and behaviors, and larger numbers of users.

We feel that the two level resolution of the SBIR prototype will deliver two distinct classes of product to the marketplace. Let us review some cases of industries that would readily employ the 3D Multi-user Internet Portal:

The Corporate Marketplace:

Virtual worlds delivered through this tool could serve the needs of business in the following areas: conferencing, customer support, training, seminars, team meetings and online tradeshows.

K-12, Colleges and Universities:

As described above, we will be designing the portal tool to able to support students on "virtual fieldtrips" to visit models of mission sites and interact with project scientists and engineers in real time. In general, for K-12, college and university level students, "virtual field trips", historic reenactments, exploration of mathematical and other abstract concepts, virtual scientific co-laboratories could all be enabled with this technology.

Museums and Science Centers:

There is a market for these virtual worlds supporting museums through kiosks or at-home access to 3D virtual rooms representing art exhibitions or animated models for natural history and science centers.

Other--DSC plans to identify numerous lucrative vertical markets.

DSC plans to make use of its business plan developed as part of Phase I to obtain venture capital. The principals of DSC have already met with several venture capitalists who are enthused about our project and we expect they will support our venture once we can demonstrate some of the capabilities of our prototype. In addition, DSC's principal stockholders (all current employees are stockholders) are committed to self financing DSC if no venture capital is obtained.

Part 11: Similar Proposals and Awards

DigitalSpace Corporation has no current active proposals submitted to Government agencies. We also do not plan to submit proposals for related work during 1999 if awarded a contract by NASA. DSC has not received any Government award for work related to the virtual world system it is currently developing.

Part 12: Previous NASA SBIR Awards

DigitalSpace Corporation has not received previous NASA STTR or SBIR awards.

End.

DigitalSpace Corporation (c)copyright 1999.